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THE BEST BOOKS OF 1996 | FICTION

INFINITE JEST By David Foster Wallace; Little, Brown: 1,079 pp., $29.95

December 29, 1996|DAVID KIPEN

David Foster Wallace has given us a meditation on addiction--the unkickable addiction of readers to all those old storytelling conventions Wallace gleefully blows up like a rotten kid cherry-bombing an electric train.

The biggest addiction may be Wallace's own to writing, a habit so consuming that the only way for him to shake it is with an abrupt, cold-turkey ending.

"Infinite Jest" takes place sometime early in the next century. Books don't count for much in Wallace's dystopia. The Gregorian calendar has made way for Subsidized Time, which takes the concept of commercial sponsorship to its logical terminus by rechristening whatever year it is as the Year of the Perdue Wonder Chicken, the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, etc.

People have tilled this ground before, from Neil Postman in "Amusing Ourselves to Death" to 10,000 Maniacs in "Candy Everybody Wants." What keeps it fresh is Wallace's prose style and gleeful low-comedy diction.

Little gets resolved. Several well-developed characters and one improbably touching romance all come to naught. Finishing "Infinite Jest," one feels less played with than toyed with. Still better to be toyed with by a genius [and] Wallace has a toy box to do Pandora proud.

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